– by Peter Carter –
There is now, at long last, agreement that the world is in a planetary climate emergency. COP25, in moving from Santiago, Chile, to Madrid, Spain, was billed as The Action COP, but it has been lots of talk leading to no emergency action. In the enormous Madrid convention center, there has been no sense of the dire Earth emergency, except at the press conferences of the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity team (www.scientistswarning.org), with which I worked. Attendance at these was shockingly poor.
After a couple of days here in Madrid, Greta Thunberg put it together in one tweet: “There is hope. I have seen it. But it does not come from governments or corporations. It comes from the people.” In her forthright way, she accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by fostering “clever accounting and creative PR,” which is the simple truth. Hearing her close up during her appearances here, her sense of disappointment was palpable. Grenada’s environment minister, Simon Steil, called out “those politically correct countries” who are saying the right thing but whose words are “disconnected” from their actions inside the negotiation rooms. “The spirit and the objectives of the Paris Agreement are being eroded clause by clause, discussion by discussion,” he warned.
After 25 years of UN Conferences of the Parties, or COPs (165 signatory nations bound under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC), most people attending the Madrid COP are aware that nothing that will truly reduce global emissions next year can be expected. The actual negotiations are carried out behind closed doors. The only action from the process is more delays.
As ever, the European Union leads the pack in policy intentions, this time predictably called the EU Green Deal. The policy is for a “climate neutral” Europe. The EU will aim to reach “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” and that will be enshrined in a “climate law.” That means updating the EU’s climate ambition for 2030, with a 50-55 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions to replace the current 40 percent objective. The 55 percent figure will be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and so may never happen, because the environmentally perverse economics of the world economy still puts corporate profits over the planet and its people.
The Indigenous people’s panels that I attended quite rightly opposed the proposed increase in carbon credit mechanisms, which have not and will not reduce global emissions in the real world.
The COP-speak of “carbon neutral” and “net zero emissions” was exposed here by an emeritus professor and lead author of the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’s now famous peer-reviewed and published paper on the climate emergency (with over 11,000 scientists in support). These terms from the 2015 Paris Agreement are fatally deceptive, because they do not mean the end of the fossil fuel era, nor an end to deforestation (CO2 emissions), nor an end to livestock methane emissions, nor an end to nitrous-oxide-emitting chemical-intensive agriculture.
We heard this when Greta Thunberg hosted a panel of scientists one morning. This most important event was poorly attended, even though Greta has been consistently urging people and policy makers to learn and act on the science.
I also attended the presentation by Al Gore. He packed the large plenary auditorium. An English voice behind me, waiting with the large milling crowd, said “My, I didn’t know he was still that popular.” It did not take long to understand why, as he launched into his latest slide show. Still the accomplished flawless presenter, his explanations were injected with real passion. His narration regarding the well-known thin film of the atmosphere this time said the young people of the world are trapped – trapped beneath this global-heating, climate-changing, greenhouse gas envelope. His images from the resulting record climate disasters of 2019 were, as he warned, quite terrifying.
On a slightly positive note for scientific truth, truly Earth-shattering science reports were released at COP25. They have got much worse with each passing COP. We heard the 2018 IPCC 1.5ºC Report, referred to by the December 2019 UNEP Gap Report released here, as requiring a 7.6 percent cut in emissions per year from 2020 to 2030. But checking the COP25 formal documents, this science is absent. The IPCC posted two excellent update presentations on the UN Climate Secretariat site, but these are not formally included in the COP25 negotiations, and I did not find anyone who was aware of them.
The first few COPs were constructive and hopeful, but it was not long until the sabotaging of the process by the governments of high fossil-fuel-producing and carbon-emitting countries captured the UN COP process. They now have a stranglehold on it and our future. This is not to criticize the good intentions of the UN, but it is amazing how policymakers here can spin out two weeks of meetings to arrive back where they were before the COP. No one new to the convoluted process and COP-speak terms could possibly understand what is going on at the end of the two weeks, though they would assume that something must have been achieved. Alas, they would be wrong. The terms of the 1992 convention have been lost sight of, with circular discussions regarding the 2015 Paris Agreement. A whole day can be spent arguing about language to finally arrive at an incoherent word mash like “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs, or COP-speak for national emissions targets). Year after year, apparently hopeful statements reveal loopholes that lead nowhere to nothing – and global emissions keep rising.
The harsh truth on emissions is that planned extraction of coal, oil and gas is already enough to blow past the 1.5ºC target and even 2ºC. We know from the past two COPs that it is the big fossil fuel producers – the US, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brazil, Russia – who consistently work to undermine a rapid reduction in global emissions. Breaking with COP tradition of blaming no one for the destruction of our planet from greenhouse gas emissions, one EU lawmaker charged such nations of holding up progress at COP25.
How close are countries to meeting their (paltry) emissions targets and to limiting global warming to 1.5ºC or 2ºC? A so-called “stocktake” session was organized by Chile’s Minister of Environment, Carolina Schmidt, COP25 president, to discuss mitigation efforts of Parties up to 2020. Several key developing countries called for measures to address the pre-2020 “gaps in ambition” and climate finance caused by the developed countries’ failure to abide by their agreements reached under the UN climate convention. “Ambition” is COP-speak in place of “commitment” and for delaying actual rapid reductions in emissions.
Apparently no one knew that a fully calculated stocktake had been carried out earlier this year by the UN Secretariat, which showed a substantial increase in global emissions by 2030, while also showing that for the 1.5ºC limit and even a planetarily catastrophic 2ºC limit, global emissions had to go into rapid decline by the end of 2020. Two UNEP reports released here in Madrid showed exactly the same thing. The experts on Greta’s science panel warned that CO2 emissions are still increasing and, as described in a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of the Climate report released for COP25, atmospheric greenhouse gases are increasing faster than ever. 2019 will be a record year for costly and damaging extreme weather events and for the climate-change-driven displacement of the world’s most vulnerable – and most innocent – people, amounting to 22 million climate refugees.
The COP25 delaying actions are actions of economic genocide by the high emitters, as well as actions for the end of civilization, of the human race, and of most life. That is because the WMO has said that atmospheric CO2 is rising faster than at least the past 40 million years. To top off the terrifying news that policymakers and the governments of world powers take in their stride, the NOAA annual Arctic Report Card was just released, and it confirmed their 2016 Report that the Arctic has switched from a carbon sink to a carbon source, with the ominous but understated conclusion that “new regional accelerating feedback from changing Arctic ecosystems may already be underway.”
Another just-published paper on the effect of global warming on the jet stream made headlines. The researchers have identified alteration of the northern hemisphere jet stream, which can cause massive heat waves across several major agricultural regions in the northern hemisphere at once. The heat waves will certainly become worse in coming years and decades, as the world continues to be heated up by continued greenhouse gas emissions. Crops cannot withstand extreme heat waves, as such events in the US and Europe and Russia have already proved.
Fossil-fuel-money-corrupted governments and power mad corporations are driving us all to the cliff of climate oblivion. But in the past two years a great global pushback has started, which will grow in numbers and determination. And so we prepare for Glasgow’s COP26 next year with grim determination that the truth of science must win out. Good must prevail over the ultimate evil of deliberate global climate catastrophe. Through this COP25, people have come together who will not abandon Greta and her young generation.
Dr. Peter Carter, a retired family physician, founded the Climate Emergency Institute in 2009. He is an expert reviewer for the IPCC, and with Elizabeth Woodworth co-authored Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival in 2018. He lives on Pender Island.
photo © Per Grunditz | Dreamstime.com